The age-gap romance has been repeatedly explored in sitcoms and soap operas, movies and literature, so the setup for “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” sounds like a tired subject matter. We’ve all seen the Gloria and Jay Pritchetts of the world. We’re used to the alarming difference in age between actors and actresses (as in a 61-year-old Liam Neeson starring opposite a 29-year-old Olivia Wilde in “Third Person”). However, the typical gender roles are flipped in director Paul McGuigan’s latest film. Instead of a bland, rich man with a young, attractive girlfriend, this film, based on a memoir of the same title, pairs a renowned former movie actress with a younger lover. For McGuigan, whose filmography consists largely of action movies like “Gangster No. 1,” this romantic adaptation is a surprise.

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” examines the relationship between Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening, “20th Century Women”) and Peter Turner (Jamie Bell, “Man On A Ledge”) in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Grahame, notorious for her vanity and brief success in the ’50s, realizes her death is imminent after a long struggle with breast cancer. She reconnects with her old flame, Turner, a stage actor, and joins his family in Liverpool. A series of flashbacks reveal their history, but unfortunately the script does not stretch adequately into Grahame’s acting heyday. As a result, screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh avoids making a significant, relevant political statement about the treatment of older actresses and what happens after fame. The concentration remains on her final years in obscurity without a comparison to her life in the spotlight.

Bell and Bening deliver strong performances, milking depth out of the thin writing. Bening mixes regalness with spunky wit and tries to elevate the portrayal of Grahame. Bell also does a good job, playing off of Bening with believable chemistry. However, the lackluster script holds back both actors and does not do the memoir justice. Despite the winning acting, the casting of Bell and Bening does not make sense with the real life people involved in the story. The down-to-earth Bening does not match the divaness of Grahame, nor does the introspective Bell align with the easygoing Turner. In the end, this story with so much potential falls short of expectations.

“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” had early Oscar buzz that quickly faded following its initial release in the United Kingdom. With such a rich background to pull from given Gloria Grahame’s messy, often scandalous career, the script really does a disservice to her colorful life. Grahame won an Oscar in 1952 for her work in “The Bad and the Beautiful” and appeared in blockbuster hits like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “In a Lonely Place.” Although the film touches on some of her most well-known works, it skates over her intoxicatingly complicated marriages and professional exploits. Bening prevents the hectic writing from swallowing this fascinating woman completely, but overall “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” kills off its best material before it has the chance to grow.

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